Among some Shia Muslims, there is a belief that Muhammad al-Mahdi, known as the Twelfth Imam, has been hidden for more than a millennium but will return one day to bring justice to the world.
Known as the Mahdi, the Twelfth Imam bears similarities to the Judeo-Christian notion of the messiah.
Apparently, the concept is a popular one in Iran, as there are currently some 3,000 “fake mahdis” imprisoned in the Middle Eastern nation.
“Every month we get someone coming in, convinced he is the Mahdi,” seminary expert Mehdi Ghafari told The Economist. “Once a man was saying such outrageous things and talking about himself in the third person that I couldn’t help laughing. He got angry and told me I had ‘bad hijab’ and was disrespecting the ‘Imam of Time,’” as the Mahdi is known.
Earlier this year Iran’s authorities arrested nearly two dozen men in separate incidents, all of whom claimed to be the Mahdi.
A website based in Qom, Iran’s holiest city, deemed the men “deviants,” “fortune-tellers” and “petty criminals,” who were exploiting credulous Iranians for alms during the Persian new-year holiday, which fell in mid-March, according to The Economist.
“Iran’s economic doldrums may have helped to cause this surge in people claiming to be mankind’s savior – and in women saying they were the Mahdi’s wife,” the publication added.
In addition to tens of thousands of lives, the ongoing civil war in Syria has now claimed the minaret of one of the world’s most picturesque mosques.
The 145-foot-high minaret of the Umayyad Mosque in the city of Aleppo, dating back to 1090, was destroyed Wednesday during fighting between the Syrian army and rebel forces.
The mosque, also known as the Great Mosque, was founded by the Umayyad Caliphate in 715 on the site of a Byzantine church. It had to be rebuilt after being damaged by a fire in 1159, and again following the Mongol invasion in 1260, according to the BBC.
However, the minaret was oldest surviving part of the structure.
In addition, other parts of the mosque complex – much of which date from the 1200s – have been badly damaged by gunfire and artillery shells.
A handful of wooden synagogues, among the last vestiges of Lithuania’s thriving pre-World War II Jewish culture, are crumbling because of a lack of money and support.
Lithuania has barely more than a dozen wooden synagogues remaining, dating between the late 19th century and the 1930s.
They are unused today and falling apart, victims in part of abuse and neglect during the Soviet era.
“Their state of disrepair struck me,” said Gilles Vuillard, a Lithuania-based French artist who has depicted them in his work over the past few years. “Most often people didn’t even know where they were located anymore, yet they are witness to a unique cultural heritage.”
Lithuania’s pre-war Jewish population was approximately 210,000. Of that, an estimated 195,000, or more than 90 percent, were murdered by the Nazis following their invasion of the Baltics in June 1941.
Most of the small number who survived the Holocaust moved to Israel after the war.
Most Jews in Lithuania today arrived after 1945 and have little to no historical connection to the wooden synagogues.
During the 24 seasons The Simpsons has been on the air, one of its many highlights has been the program’s ability to spoof the video game industry.
Invariably, video and arcade games are shown in a satirical vein, with an abundance of violence, blood or simple inane themes (witness the My Dinner with Andre game).
I’m partial to Billy Graham’s Bible Blaster, which, not surprising to fans of the show, belongs to Rod and Todd Flanders, progeny of ultra-religious Simpson neighbor Ned Flanders.
As Bart plays for Bible Blasters for the first time, Rod can be heard proffering the following advice: “Keep firing, convert the heathens!”
In a city noted for extraordinary churches, the French Huguenot Church stands out among Charleston’s houses of worship.
Completed in 1845, the Huguenot Church was the first Gothic Revival building constructed in the South Carolina port city. Nearly 170 years later, it is the only independent Huguenot church in the United States.
Also known as the French Protestant Church, it is a stuccoed-brick structure with three bays in the front and back and six bays along the sides. Each bay is divided by narrow buttresses topped by elaborate pinnacles, and the three front windows are topped with cast-iron crockets with a battlement parapet surrounding the top of the church.
The interior consists of walls with plaster ribbed-grained vaulting, with marble tablets etched with names of Huguenot families such as Ravenel, Porcher, de Saussure, Huger and Mazyck.
The French Huguenot Church was founded around 1681 by Protestant refugees escaping persecution in France.
“From 1680 through 1760, hundreds of Huguenots arrived in the Lowcountry, seeking religious freedom and safety from persecution. Many abandoned considerable wealth and social prominence simply for the opportunity to practice their Protestant faith,” according to John E. Cuttino, president of the Huguenot Society of South Carolina.
A glazed plate that had sat in a make-shift frame hidden behind a door in an English cottage for years was recently discovered to be worth far more than its owner knew.
The 16.5 inch Italian maiolica plate was ”uncovered” by an auctioneer who been asked to assess some items in the unidentified woman’s home in Dorset, England.
Only about two inches of it were visible when appraiser Richard Bromell caught a glimpse of the plate behind a door.
“It had been on the wall for a number of years and you couldn’t really see it but it was hugely exciting …” he told the BBC.
When put up for sale by Charterhouse Auctioneers on Feb. 14, the plate brought $880,000, despite having a small chip.
Nigeria represents for many both the great potential and the great frustration of Africa.
The nation’s oil reserves, among the largest in the world, have flooded the country’s coffers. Yet Nigeria has long been dogged by high levels of crime, poverty and violence, and government corruption has been a serious problem for decades.
Evidence that little oil revenue makes its way to the nation’s 170 million citizens can be seen in the fact that in more than one instance in recent years, hundreds of Nigerians scavenging petroleum products from punctured pipelines have been killed when puddles of fallen fuel ignited.
If government corruption and endemic poverty weren’t enough, the nation is divided between Muslims, who are concentrated mostly in the north, and Christians, who mostly live in the South.
In recent years, efforts by Islamists to establish sharia law have resulted in armed conflict with government forces, particularly in the north, though the clashes pale in comparison to the Nigerian Civil War of the 1960s that claimed as many as 3 million lives.
Yet, not all the news from Africa’s most populous nation is bad. The railway linking Nigeria’s capital city Lagos, in the south, with Kano, the second-largest city, located in the north, has reopened after more than a decade.
It cost more than $150 million to rehabilitate the line, according to the state-owned Nigeria Railway Corporation.
With word that Pope Benedict XVI will step down at the end of this month, speculation began immediately about who will succeed him.
And, of course, with a new pope comes a new name. The Jumping Polar Bear blog has helpfully listed the names of all 266 men who have served as Bishop of Rome, beginning with St. Peter.
Of late, there hasn’t been much variety, with just five different names, or variations thereof, over the past 167 years.
There have been two Benedicts, the current pontiff (2005-2013) and Benedict XV (1914-22); one John (John XXIII, 1958-1963); one Paul (Paul VI, 1963-1978) two John Pauls (JP I, 1978; and JP II, 1978-2005); four with the name of Pius (Pius IX, 1846-1878; Pius X, 1903-1914; Pius XI, 1922-1939; and Pius XII, 1939-58); and one Leo (Leo XIII, 1878-1903).
That’s in stark contrast to the Church’s early years when there were myriad names, many of which are unrecognizable today. That’s because the early popes simply kept their first name.
However, by the sixth century some pontiffs began adopting a new name upon their accession to the papacy. By the 10th century, this had become the custom and every pope since the 16th century has done so.
While at this point it’s impossible to say what name of the next pope will say, it’s probably safe to rule out a few previous names: Read the rest of this entry »
Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday that he would resign at the end of February because of health concerns. The move is exceedingly rare; the last time a pontiff stepped down for any reason was nearly 600 years ago amid one of the most turbulent periods in church history.
At the time of Gregory’s election in 1406, the church was in the midst of a split that had rent it since 1378, an outgrowth of the Avignon Papacy. Various men from two rival camps simultaneously claimed to be the true pope during the period.
Also called the Papal Schism, the split was driven by politics rather than any theological disagreement. It would prove a turning point in church history.
Gregory was born Angelo Correr in Venice, the son of a nobleman, according to the Oxford Dictionary of the Renaissance. He was successively appointed bishop of Castello (1380), Latin patriarch of Constantinople (1390), cardinal-priest of San Marco (1405), and papal secretary.
Gregory was elected in November 1406 in Rome by a conclave consisting of just 15 cardinals, with the express condition that should rival Antipope Benedict XIII, who was based at Avignon, France, renounce all claims to the Papacy, Gregory would do likewise. That would enable a fresh election to take place, bringing the schism to an end.
A meeting was set on neutral turf in northwestern Italy. Not surprisingly given the nature of medieval Christian politics, the two pontiffs were wary to open negotiations. Before long both began to have second thoughts about giving up power, and each feared capture by his rival’s allies.